10 March 2021
Simon Wills presents his pick of resources for finding out about ancestors who played cricket professionally.
The earliest references to cricket in the UK come from the 16th century, but by late Victorian times it was hugely popular. Some men were good enough at the game to make a living from playing cricket, and became known as professionals. They were paid by their cricket clubs, by a match patron, or by charging amateurs to compete against them. It is said that the sport reached its peak in the two decades or so before the First World War. This so-called Golden Age of Cricket is usually dated from 1890 to 1914.
Top 3 resources
1 Cricketers' Almanac
In 1864, John Wisden created the annually published Cricketers’ Almanack. This so-called ‘Bible of Cricket’ is also familiarly referred to as ‘Wisden’ and its complete archive is available online. The contents include:
- valuable obituaries of cricketers
- awards to individuals
- scorecards for every first class game
- reports of significant matches such as international games
2 Lillywhite publications
Fredrick Lillywhite and his heirs created another series of annually published books that pre-date Wisden: they began in 1849 and continued until 1900. These books include biographies of players as well as unique reports of matches and other cricketing information. Unfortunately, many of these books are rare and do not seem to be available online.
The Wisden website has a guide to the Lillywhite books that were published but you may need to consult specialist archives or private collectors to see copies.
3 County Cricket Clubs
The county cricket clubs that exist today were all founded in the 19th century, beginning with Sussex in 1839. If your ancestor played for a county side then most grounds have displays, museums or an archive that may be able to help you with research. Some county club websites are also helpful: Lancashire, for example, has a detailed online history of its club. Wikipedia has complete listings of former players for many cricket clubs since their foundation, such as Middlesex.
Blog extracted from an article in the April issue of Family Tree magazine.
About the author
Dr Simon Wills is a genealogist and author with more than 30 years’ experience of researching his ancestors. He has a particular interest in maritime history and the natural world. His latest book is A History of Birds (White Owl). He is also author of The Wreck of the SS London, Tracing Your Seafaring Ancestors, and How Our Ancestors Died amongst others.